LAPORTE | Retired astronaut Jerry Ross advised young people to follow their dreams like he did, no matter what it is they feel God has called them to do.
He certainly made an impression with Portia Firnhaber, 19, of LaPorte.
"He kind of showed everyone that you can pretty much do anything you want to do," Firnhaber said.
Ross, 66, spoke to a packed house of more than 300 people at Bethany Lutheran Church in LaPorte as part of the church's ongoing New Directions program, which features a variety of topics aimed at educating, inspiring and improving the lives of citizens.
He also signed copies of his book "Spacewalker."
Ross said he knew in fourth grade that he wanted to know more about space at a time when astronauts didn't exist and thoughts of going into space among world leaders were a fantasy.
Ross said he began saving money from odds jobs to help pay for his education at Purdue University where he earned degrees in mechanical engineering.
He was in the Air Force working on developing engines when NASA began the process of developing the space shuttle when opportunity came knocking.
Ross was one of just a few chosen from a pool of 6,000 applicants to be part of the first space shuttle flights.
He was 37 when he first flew into space and 54 on his last space shuttle mission.
Ross holds the record of seven space flights and nine spacewalks.
One of his space walks, Ross said he was overcome with an unforgettable sensation that he answered his calling.
"I really felt it was an affirmation from God that I was doing what he designed me to do. I wish everyone would experience that sensation. You can't top that," Ross said.
Dave DeLau, of Union Mills, roomed with Ross during their days at Purdue and described him as a family man and regular guy who still mows in lawn with a push mower despite the heights of his success.
"He's following God's plan. Jerry has known this from Day One, I believe," DeLau said.